By Stacey Egger
This story was updated on May 31 with information about the tornado in Linwood, Kan.
“There were trees on houses, there were houses that were in half,” said Danny Sommerer, a member of Immanuel Lutheran Church, Jefferson City, Mo. “I’ve never seen that kind of devastation.”
Sommerer was at his home about two miles from the path of the Jefferson City tornado when it passed by the night of May 22. The next morning, he saw houses, apartments, businesses and even a church destroyed.
Beyond the physical damage, the terror and confusion of the night before had affected many in Jefferson City, including members of Immanuel.
One member had spent much of the night trying to get in touch with his daughter, who lived in an apartment building that was completely destroyed.
Another young woman had driven across the dark city after the tornado, dodging downed power lines and debris, to get to her parents’ house to see if they were all right.
In the morning, Sommerer took generators and extension cords to a family from Immanuel — and their neighbors — who had been in the tornado’s path. He helped clear their yard, in which he said no trees were still standing.
Local, rapid response
Immediate relief work like this is only possible through local service. In a similar way, Lutheran Early Response Teams (LERT) see the needs where they are and can address them immediately.
LERT volunteers are organized at the district level and trained in many aspects of disaster response, such as chainsaw usage, so that they can be rapidly deployed when disasters strike. The teams are trained to make plans ahead of disasters, to assess damage and needs after those disasters, and to coordinate volunteers and recovery efforts.
In the wake of a severe tornado outbreak in the Midwest in May, LERT teams in several LCMS districts are preparing to aid in clearing debris, removing trees from homes and meeting whatever other needs become apparent.
Kent Kunkel, a LERT member in the Missouri District, met May 23 with LCMS World Relief and Human Care Disaster Response to update them on the situation in Jefferson City.
While the full extent of the damage is yet unknown, he said that Missouri District LERT chainsaw teams will likely be gathered and sent out this weekend to help with recovery and cleanup efforts in Jefferson City. He expected at least a dozen volunteers to help out.
The Rev. Dr. Ross Johnson, director of Disaster Response for the Synod, said LERT volunteers from Central Illinois are preparing for recovery efforts after the severe storms as well, and will center these efforts in Watseka, Ill.
“The storms and tornadoes have downed many trees, which have blocked roads and driveways and fallen on homes. The Central Illinois teams will be helping homeowners remove fallen trees from homes and property,” said Johnson.
Johnson also said that Disaster Response has worked hard alongside the Missouri and Central Illinois districts over the past several years to put resources and plans in place so that they can quickly and easily respond to local disasters when and where they happen. Their strength is in their ability to operate independently.
“When they deploy, each team is self-sufficient, because we have put in place all those resources and plans and training ahead of time,” Johnson said. “These volunteers are ready-trained and prepared to help their community in the name of Christ as they work through LCMS congregations to show mercy after severe storms and tornadoes.”
‘Rolling up their sleeves’
On May 28, a massive EF4 tornado tore through Linwood, Kan. Thirty minutes later, Kansas LERT leaders reached out to the Rev. Jason Boetcher of Trinity Family of Faith Lutheran Church, Basehor, Kan.
They agreed that Trinity Family of Faith would be the staging area for Kansas LERT recovery efforts. By 7 a.m. on Wednesday, May 29, LERT leaders were out in affected areas assessing damages and planning relief projects. Eight LERT volunteers left Trinity early Thursday morning to clear debris and fallen trees.
Boetcher said that one of his member families had lost their house entirely, while several others had significant damage to their houses or properties. Members of Risen Savior Lutheran Church in Basehor had also suffered tree damage on their properties.
The LCMS Northern and Central Illinois districts’ experienced LERT volunteers will aid in Kansas tornado recovery, with chainsaw teams making the trip to Kansas sometime this weekend or early next week.
Between the LERT and other volunteers in the area, Boetcher said he was struck by the amount of local recovery work that had been accomplished and planned in the first 24 hours after the storm. “It’s been amazing to see the community come together,” he said. “People are rolling up their sleeves — pretty much everyone in the area is helping out. It’s amazing to see how God provides for His people through His people.”
To make a gift in support of disaster-recovery efforts:
• visit lcms.org/givenow/disaster.
• text LCMSDISASTERS to 41444.
• mail checks, made payable to “LCMS,” to The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, P.O. Box 66861, St. Louis, MO 63166-6861. On the memo line or an accompanying note, write “For disaster relief/response” or “For tornado relief.”
Posted May 23, 2019/Updated May 30, 2019/Image updated June 8, 2021